Meena Kothandaraman

Experience Researcher and Strategist

Tips on Unpacking Context During COVID: Human Considerations and Reflections during Research Studies

18 mins
Broader impact & change through design


About The Speaker

With 30 years of experience, Meena has consulted to emphasize the strategic value and positioning of qualitative research in the design of product, space, and service. Meena is fascinated by the complexity of human behavior and applies a credible, structured, and transparent approach to integrating human stories and anecdotes into mainstream processes. Qualitative research serves as a vehicle for generating human stories and additionally serves as a foundation for inspiring design within organizations. Meena’s experience spans multiple verticals, with companies who believe in the value of qualitative research.

Meena is a founding member of twig+fish, a research and strategy practice based in Boston, MA, that espouses these research beliefs, while maintaining a utopic work-life balance. Apart from her core consulting practice, she has been a key contributor and Lecturer in the Bentley University Human Factors and Information Design (HFID) graduate program in her 20-year tenure. Meena teaches the capstone qualitative research course.

She holds an M.S. in Information Resources Management from Syracuse University and a B.Com. in MIS from the University of Ottawa, Canada. Meena is a proud Indo-Canadian. She is a children’s book author, and a concert level South Indian Classical Violinist.

Tips on Unpacking Context During COVID: Human Considerations and Reflections during Research Studies

Context has always been of importance to unpack and describe when understanding human realities. Context can be described as anything and everything that brings meaning to a situation human shares while describing their realities. Pre-COVID, qualitative researchers readily presented options for studies for both in-context and out-of-context approaches. With the onset of the pandemic, in-context approaches quickly became harder to offer given the uncertainty of being able to conduct the study, as well as the added cost for the safety of everyone involved. The challenge for researchers became how to elicit the human context while not being immersed in it. Context can be nuanced, and details can be easily overlooked – this affects a researcher’s interpretation of a human story.

Meena Kothandaraman of twig+fish shares four quick tips for the easier articulation of context that can be considered when running remote research studies. In her previous presentation at UXIndia18, Meena observed that many Indian practitioners are mostly limited to out-of-context approaches with offshore companies. She reviews these tips in a way that benefits anyone conducting research while not being immersed in the context being studied. She reviews case study examples as a way to describe the recommended tips.

Key Takeaways


Understand nuances that allow participants control over the way they review a topic, as well as the environment they choose to share it from.


Abstract the concept of time where currently time does not have clear definition.


Integrate unexpected distractions into a third-person perspective.

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